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Posts from the ‘Doing history in public’ Category

Levelling, enclosure, and coronavirus

By Max Ashby Holme

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.

– Excerpt from “The Goose and the Commons” (c. 17th cent.) [1]

As lockdown measures in the UK are eased, we must consider the kind of world COVID-19 will leave behind. The coronavirus has been called a ‘great leveller’. As Paul Bristow, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, put it: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what circumstances you come from – we are all at risk.’ [2] This statement is misleading, however, since coronavirus amplifies existing social inequalities. Not only do life savings help to mitigate the financial impact of the virus on the wealthy, they are also more likely to be able to work from home, and less likely to find themselves in overcrowded accommodation, without access to gardens. [3] Those most exposed to the virus, including care home workers, bus drivers, and shop keepers – as well as hospital staff – are overwhelmingly the lowest paid members of the workforce. [4] Furthermore, coronavirus disproportionately affects people from BAME backgrounds. [5] It is a myth that the virus affects everyone equally, and the political origins of the term ‘leveller’ illustrate even more clearly how poor a label it is for coronavirus.

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The Hanging Baskets of a Medieval German Prague: English Travel Literature from 1815 to 1848

By Jana Hunter @janakhunter

At the heart of Europe lies Prague: a city centred around the River Moldau, embodying antiquity, mysticism and the sublime. Its imposing and grandiose scenes received little attention from travel writers up until the Napoleonic Wars. Through travel literature, Prague emerged as a fantastical city providing escapism, both physically and mentally, for travellers. Mapped like a medieval German city, and located in Central Europe, Prague was home to a dynamic cultural milieu. Yet, it was also deemed to be uncivilised, possessing an Oriental grandeur. This contentious portrayal epitomises the difficulty travellers had – and continue to have – in defining the city and challenges the powerful concept of a binary Europe.

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‘Paying it forward’: Bonds of giving between Ireland and the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Navajo Nations from the Irish Famine to COVID-19.

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn)

In the mid 1840s and early 1850s, Ireland was ravaged by a Famine which, through a combination of death and emigration, saw the population fall by a third. The horrors of the Famine were reported globally, and the crisis, unfolding in almost real time in the newspapers of readers worldwide prompted an outpouring of global sympathy.[1]

Ireland received approximately two million pounds of overseas donations, which came from businessmen in New York, naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, and prisoners serving time on the remote penal settlement of Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean. Some of these donations have lingered longer in Irish popular historical memory than others, and the strength of these memories are such that they continue to shape Ireland’s relationship with overseas communities. Read more

Argentina 1910: Latin America’s Guardian

By Jordan Buchanan

Argentina was once the front-runner in the defence of Latin America from incipient U.S. imperialism. The South American republic celebrated the centenary of its declaration of independence in 1910, firmly established as the leading economy in the region.[1] In the prelude to Argentina’s anniversary, The Economist acclaimed that ‘it is probable that Argentina in the twentieth century may make as rapid progress as did the United States in the nineteenth.’[2] Argentina was attracting international praise for the success for its export-oriented economy that had stimulated average annual growth in export income by 14.1% between 1900-1910.[3]

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Art in the Time of Coronavirus

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

15 March 2020: we were beginning to realise just how much of an impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on all our lives. One of my friends messaged a group chat, ‘Now that we aren’t allowed to touch anything ever again does it spell the end of material culture? Is the new textual turn approaching?’ Read more

Apocalypse Then: what would past ages have made of COVID-19?

By Sam Harrison (@seph1812)

As the implications of COVID-19 became clear last month, many of us began to ask why we had not done more to prepare for it: we had known for some time that the virus had the potential to become a pandemic, and for years experts had been warning successive British governments of the dangers of a flu-like pandemic.

But perhaps we should not have been quite so surprised. It is now over fifty years since scientists first started alerting the world to anthropogenic climate change. New evidence mounts every week to prove that the natural world is disintegrating around us, and we know full well that the implications of this for us are cataclysmic. And still we fail to take the drastic action that we know to be necessary.

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History in the Present: Saving the Thomas Cook Archives

By Zoë Jackson

On September 23, 2019, the British travel company Thomas Cook suddenly went out of business. The company had been dealing with financial issues for years. But its end was abrupt enough as to catch hundreds of thousands of travellers in the middle of trips or looking forward to trips planned with the company.[1] Read more

How (not) to communicate historical research

By Davide Martino

Mr D. is the History teacher to whom I owe my passion for the subject. A historian of Byzantium, he was nonetheless able to take us through late medieval civic government in the Low Countries, and the politicisation of historical memory in the twentieth century. Among his teachings, there was one I always struggled to relate to: his extreme diffidence towards Wikipedia. Recently, however, I am starting to think that he may have had a point.

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Inside the Modernist mind: Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto (2019)

By Sam Young (@Samyoung102

Minnette de Silva was a remarkable individual. Sri Lanka’s first female architect and the first Asian woman to join the Royal Institute of British Architects, she pioneered the development of a ‘Regional Modernism’ style of urban design throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In Plastic Emotions, Shiromi Pinto intimately explores the life of this often forgotten but nonetheless influential figure in architectural history, focusing on de Silva’s struggles in a turbulent post-independence Ceylon and her passionate (if speculative) relationship with famed Swiss-French Modernist Le Corbusier. A heady mix of art and romance, Plastic Emotions has been praised for its gripping portrayal of two fiercely intelligent individuals brought together by a shared belief in the transformative power of architecture, resulting in a story as beautiful as it is desperately sad.

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The Climate of History: Protest and Performance at the British Museum

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

On the 8 February 2020, the British Museum became the site of a mass protest for climate justice. The target was the multinational oil and gas provider BP, a long-term partner of the British Museum and the sponsor of a new flagship exhibition entitled ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’.[1] According to the organisers of the protest, the activist group ‘BP or not BP?’, the company’s sponsorship of historical attractions is a form of ‘culture-washing’ which draws attention from their exploitation of the natural world and their support for authoritarian regimes. At the same time, the exhibition’s showy, uncritical style distracts from more contemporary debates within the museum – such as the status of artefacts acquired through colonial force. This combined critique of donor and recipient is particularly interesting: while the protest is primarily a climate demonstration, it also represents an elaborate and inclusive exercise in public history.

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Irish politics: past, present, future?

By Aoife O’Leary McNeice (@aolmcn

For the past one hundred years, Irish parliamentary politics has been dominated by two political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. This is now no longer the case. Ireland’s recent general election saw the left wing party Sinn Féin emerge as the third ‘big party’ in Irish politics, gaining more first preference votes than either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael (both centre right).  Witnessing the frustrations of an electorate faced with a housing crisis and overcrowded hospitals during a period of alleged economic recovery, pundits and politicians alike identified a thirst for change. The election has produced a complicated political  landscape, in which no single party has enough seats to form a majority.  Weeks if not months of coalition talks are now likely. And whilst many are more focused on the future than the past, these three parties share a complicated, overlapping history. This shared past may still impact upon their ability to form a government together.

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‘Twittering Historians: On Active Duty in the Rapid Reaction Force’

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown), Laura Flannigan (@LFlannigan17), and Robert Saunders (@redhistorian)

DHP were invited to speak at the Public and Popular History seminar on 5 February 2020. We sent along our Editor, Stephanie Brown, and member of the editorial team, Laura Flannigan. Also, on the panel was Dr Robert Saunders (Queen Mary London), who is a prolific author on nineteenth and twentieth century British politics, including his acclaimed book Yes to Europe: The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain (2018).

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Wiley Digital Archives: enhancing research capabilities

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

I was recently invited to user-test Wiley Digital Archives’ (WDA) platform which holds digitised archives from various societies including The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), The New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (RGS) and The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI). The WDA platform is a wonderful resource, bringing together numerous collections and enabling cross-referencing across multiple archive collections.

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Suffrage, Arson, and the University of Bristol

By Georgia Oman (@Georgia_Oman)

Founded as University College, Bristol, in 1876, the awarding of a royal charter in 1909 allowed the University of Bristol to officially come in to being. In that time, the institution had earned a reputation as a trailblazer in the higher education of women. During the College’s first year, there were 69 women day students registered, compared to 30 men.[1] In 1882, outgoing Professor J. F. Main declared that Bristol ‘had been the first amongst the colleges of England to open its doors to all persons anxious to obtain instruction within its walls, without any distinction of sex’.[2] With this strong legacy of gender equality, it is perhaps not surprising that, in 1913, the women of the university began to think of forming a Women’s Suffrage Society. At a meeting held on the 11th of February of that year, a motion that such a society be formed was passed by 34 votes to two, and the meeting ended in the hope that ‘this Society will be formed during the present term.’[3]

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Tour de Force: A Selected History of Guided Tours

By Clemency Hinton (@clemencyhinton)

Guided tours are part and parcel of today’s tourism industry. In fact, there are over 1,800 registered professional tour guides in the UK alone.[1] Tour guides (also known as rangers, couriers or interpreters) can be traced through history, leading one scholar to describe guiding as likely to be ‘among the world’s oldest professions.’[2] The World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations defines a ‘Tourist Guide’ as a qualified person who ‘guides visitors in the language of their choice and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area.’[3] However, guides have existed long before they became part of a recognised profession.

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Teaching Around Trauma: The Holocaust in Primary School Education

By Alex White (@alex_j_white)

It’s a sunny day in rural England. A football team is practising on the field outside, a group of schoolchildren are queuing for lunch, and I am working as a teaching assistant as a class of nine-year-olds learn about the Holocaust for the first time.

The room is quiet, and I can’t help feeling tense. The teaching of painful histories always carries emotional baggage, forcing educators to balance the need for factual accuracy with the risk of causing lasting trauma. This is particularly true for young children:  their emotional capacities are still developing and many can struggle to separate themselves from traumatic events while others will fail to engage empathetically at all.[1] At the same time, however, the schoolroom has been depicted as a formative space where educators can introduce complex topics in a mediated and emotionally appropriate manner.[2] When schools refuse to teach ‘difficult’ histories, they run the risk of exposing pupils to misinformation from less secure sources. For a topic as emotive as the Holocaust, this can have particularly dangerous consequences.

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Doing History in Public Review of 2019

Editor of DHP Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown) looks back at 2019.

As it is New Year’s Eve, let’s take one final look at 2019, before the resolutions of 2020 begin. In fact, it was a resolution that kicked off 2019 for DHP. Veganuary saw Greggs launch their vegan sausage roll and they quickly struggled to keep up with demand. Piers Morgan called the bakery ‘PC-ravaged clowns’, however, Zoe Farrell uncovered the long history behind veganism.

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Fashion Gallery as Archive: Researching Dress History in Museums

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

In recent years, it has become fashionable to talk of an ‘archival turn’ in history, in which the site of record-keeping has itself come under scrutiny.[1] At the same time, material history has risen to prominence as an intriguing counterpart or companion to the paper-trail left by written documents.[2] As someone who became fluent in the visual language of a museum long before I encountered academic history, I like to think of a fashion gallery as something that can be ‘read’ in similar ways to an archive, combining the perspectives of both historiographies.

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Virtual electioneering: echoes of the 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act

Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

On Thursday, voters across the UK will head to the polls in the third general election in less than five years. This contest suggests numerous historical parallels. It’s the first December election since 1923 – an election which incidentally brought in Britain’s first ever (minority) Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. Brexit continues to upset traditional party allegiances, leaving both Labour and Tory heartlands vulnerable. And never before has the environmental crisis featured so prominently as an electoral issue.

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Nazi doublethink: Race and nation in Germany’s borderlands

By Luisa Hulsrøj

“The national state . . . must set race in the center of all life,” Hitler declared in Mein Kampf, exemplifying his movement’s exaltation not only of the nation but also of its ostensible basis in race. This pernicious ideology encountered challenges, recent scholarship has found, when it met with populations in East-Central Europe that had difficult-to-distinguish ethnic backgrounds and no, or at least no stable, national identities.[1] Such so-called national indifference is difficult to imagine, for today we take nationality for granted as universal and timeless. Yet nations did not emerge in their modern form as the model for state organization until the 19th century. Even then they had to be actively constructed. Compulsory public schooling, for example, was widely introduced to teach standardized national languages and national history in an attempt to make citizens into members of nations. The course of nationalization did not, however, run smooth. Well into the 20th century national indifference persisted, not just in backwaters like the early Soviet Union’s rural Western frontier but also in some of Europe’s industrialized heartlands, such as Bohemia and Upper Silesia. During the Second World War, Nazi occupation authorities in such areas adopted racist rhetoric. However, acknowledging ethnic ambiguity internally, they also instituted policies designed to recruit the nationally indifferent for the German nation.

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